Ottawa, Ontario: Federally licensed medical marijuana patients will have
to wait at least several more months before receiving their first
supplies of government-approved pot, according to statements made this
week by Health Canada. The announcement contradicts a previous
declaration made by the agency in December when a Health Canada source
told the Montreal Gazette that qualified patients could expect to begin
receiving medical marijuana by the first of the year.

"The longer Health Canada delays the distribution of government approved
medical marijuana to the seriously ill, the longer patients will be
forced to obtain their medicine on the black market and endure all the
inherent risks that go with it," said Allen St. Pierre, Executive
Director of The NORML Foundation. "This sort of federal foot-dragging
needlessly aggravates patient suffering."

Under regulations enacted by Health Canada last July, patients who are
terminally ill or suffering from symptoms associated with a serious
medical condition may apply for a federal license to grow and possess up
to a 30-day supply of marijuana for medical purposes. To date, Health
Canada has certified 680 patients to legally possess medical pot.

In preparation for the law change, Health Canada officials signed a $5.7
million contract in December 2000 with the Saskatchewan firm Prairie
Plant Systems to grow 185 kilograms of medical cannabis. Presently, more
than 2,000 marijuana plants have been harvested. Nevertheless, federal
officials have yet to agree on a system to distribute marijuana to those
patients licensed by the government to use it.

Unresolved issues include: how the marijuana will be packaged; whether it
will be available in licensed pharmacies or mailed by personal courier;
how Health Canada will test the marijuana for quality and safety; and
whether international treaties in any way inhibit the government's
ability to legally distribute medical pot.

Andrew Swift, a spokesman for Health Canada told the Edmonton Sun on
Wednesday that he expects the government-contracted pot to be available
in "upcoming months," but refused to give a more specific date. In an
interview with NOW Magazine, Swift denied newspaper reports claiming that
Health Canada may postpone their medical pot distribution program
indefinitely because of concerns that it could run afoul of international
anti-drug treaties.

Prairie Plant Systems President Brent Zettl also affirmed that it would
likely be another two or three months before his company's pot is ready
for public dissemination. "Bearing in mind that nowhere else in the
world has this ever been done before, international agreements about
controlled substances make this a bit of an onerous task for Health
Canada," he said.

St. Pierre noted, however, that the U.S. government has been distributing
medical marijuana to a limited number of patients since the mid-1970s.

For more information, please contact either Allen St. Pierre of The NORML
Foundation at (202) 483-8751 or visit Health Canada's Office of Medical
Cannabis online at: http://www.hc-sc.gc.ca/hecs-sesc/ocma/.